I never went to war. I wasn’t Marine Recon. I wasn’t Army Special Forces. I wasn’t a Navy SEAL. I wasn’t a USAF PJ or TACP. I never strangled a Nazi with my bare hands to prevent him from trying to destroy your freedoms or murder your puppy.
Much of what I did involved force protection. What that means is that I watched the backs of the Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen who were much closer to harm’s way than I was. That’s about it. The closest I ever came to combat was very nearly getting caught up in the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo Subway in 1995.
One job I held was Linguist Debriefer/Interrogator (AFSC 8D000). Sounds impressive, doesn’t it? I even went to a school called “Combat Interrogation.” Macho, right? I know. We also happened to have (and, I believe, still have) the absolute bottom-of-the-barrel, lowest promotion rate in the entire Air Force, bar none. When I was in this career field, there were 4 people in my rank (including me), worldwide. It was so mathematically impossible to get promoted that some of us started (jokingly, of course), plotting the elaborate deaths of our colleagues. The CC of all USAF HUMINT even visited my unit to apologize and talked about plans for a mass meritorious promotion for everyone… just to “fix” the problem. (It never happened.)
I did get to take part in some interesting things that most people will never get to know about and work in some places that most people will never get access to. Some of what I was involved in even made it into the international news. On at least one occasion, something I did ended up in the President’s Daily Brief (he may or may not have been awoken in the middle of the night because of me). They even gave me a medal for it, but I can never tell you the who, what, when, where, why, or how. I also got a meritorious citation from the Director of the CIA for that thing I did with that guy in the place. A few people, maybe even someone reading this right now, might know about some of these things, but that’s about it. The rest of you are out of luck. Sorry.
As is sometimes the case with the nature of the jobs I performed, my actions may have ultimately resulted in injury or death, but I will never know. I never had to look someone in the eyes as I pulled a trigger. I never had to look for IEDs as I drove my Nissan from the barracks to work. I slept in a bed, not in a hole I had to dig with a spork. I experienced death, but it was never in the form of trying to stuff my best friend’s guts back into a gaping cavity that used to be his torso. I led a particularly cushy life. I even enjoyed a lot of it. The nature of my service was honorable, but mediocre at best, and I never rose past a staff NCO rank.
In retrospect, I probably wasn’t even cut out for military life at all, even the comfortable version that I lived. The only reason I joined in the first place was that I had no other real plans. The only reason I stayed as long as I did was that I had no other real plans. That said, I did take the oath. And the last I checked, there was no expiration date on it. Nor did I rescind it.
If you want to thank me for my “service,” I’ll accept it. But don’t be surprised if I’m a bit awkward in my acceptance.